Influence of different control strategies on muscle activation patterns in trunk muscles

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Adequate training of the trunk muscles is essential to prevent low back pain. Although sit-ups are simple to perform, the perceived high effort is the reason why training the abdominal muscles is seldom continued over a longer period of time. It is well known that the abdominal muscles are inferior to the back muscles in terms of force, but this cannot explain the extreme difference in perceived effort between trunk flexion and extension tasks. Therefore, this study was aimed at the identification of control strategy influences on the muscular stress level. Thirty-nine subjects were investigated. The performed tasks were restricted to the sagittal plane and were implemented with simulated and realized tilt angles. Subjects were investigated in an upright position with their lower bodies fixed and their upper bodies free. Posture-controlled tasks involved graded forward and backward tilting, while force-controlled tasks involved the application of force based on a virtual tilt angle. The Surface EMG (SEMG) was taken from five trunk muscles on both sides. Control strategies seemed to have no systematic influence on the SEMG amplitudes of the back muscles. In contrast, the abdominal muscles exhibited significantly higher stress levels under posture-controlled conditions without relevantly increasing antagonistic co-activation of back muscles. The abdominal muscles’ relative differences ranged from an average of 20% for the external oblique abdominal muscle to approximately 40% for the rectus abdominal muscle. The perceived high effort expended during sit-ups can now be explained by the posture-controlled contractions that are required.




Hansen, L., & Anders, C. (2014). Influence of different control strategies on muscle activation patterns in trunk muscles. Physiological Reports, 2(12).

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